Mark Strand, Collected Poems

Generally, when I read poetry, I will read a few of an author’s poems within a literary magazine or a small collection like a chapbook, but I ingested this enormous body of work almost all at once, and while I doubt I comprehended or appreciated any of the poems fully due to this manner of reading, I’m  not sure that my failure to fully absorb the content means that this approach to reading poetry should be written off, particularly not for those readers who also write (as I try to do). I tend to be a very emotional person, prone to writing that is lush on a good day and overwrought on a bad one, but I felt, after reading Mark Strand for many hours, that his manner of thinking—his detachment, his surrealism, his quiet, elegant observations, and even his cadence—had usurped my own usual thinking patterns. And writing after reading this way was truly very fruitful, as it also allowed me to stretch significantly. So, although there are those who might argue that such large collections distort poets’ works by changing the format and context in which that work originally appeared (and sometimes the order in which individual poems appeared), I think that my experience demonstrates the value of bringing an author’s entire output to one volume. Like many such collections, this particular one is successful in that it is mindful of the arrangement of the original collections and of their chronology, allowing readers to choose between having the overwhelmingly immersive experience I had or having the kind of experience one might have as Strand’s contemporary, reading him a bit at a time. I will be going back to this collection frequently. As of now, I was most moved by “My Life by Somebody Else” and “Keeping Things Whole” (“In a field / I am the absence / of field” says so much so sparely), but I feel that this is the sort of book with which I will be able to evolve, appreciating different sections depending upon the stage of my life.

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